Newly built clubhouse at the Peninsula community on Indian River Bay in Millsboro. Jason Minto/The News Journal
Residents in The Peninsula, an upscale, gated community that overlooks Indian River Bay, had an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, a spa, pools, a restaurant and gym, among other amenities.
But the one thing they were promised as part of the planned community was a clubhouse. That, and the other amenities were expected to be built and ready for use within two years of the first building permits being issued.
Now, after years of controversy, and more than 12 years of waiting for those first residents who moved in in 2005, the clubhouse is complete and open for business.
The $14.4 million bond that new developer Ocean Atlantic put up as an assurance the clubhouse would be built, was released last month, said Greg Tobias, a partner in Ocean Atlantic.
The company, which purchased the development in 2014 along with more than 600 unsold building lots, hosted an open house to show off the clubhouse for residents and prospective new ones on Saturday. They had an earlier event in December.
The development was approved by Sussex County Council in November 2002 as a residential planned community of 1,404 homes on 787.7 acres. The land, long known as The Bay Farm, has been owned by Townsends and was farmed to produce feed for their extensive poultry operation. Townsends initially tried to develop the site but ultimately sold the land to Riera-Odyssey Ventures LLC, the original developer.
The project commenced amid the building boom. When the economy crashed, sales slowed in the development and the bank that provided financing ultimately took over. That bank was purchased by Wells Fargo, which took ownership of the unsold lots at a sheriff’s sale in September 2013.
Residents in the community pressed Sussex County officials to force construction of the clubhouse. Wells Fargo sought and received an extension to complete the clubhouse by December 2016. The county ordered The Peninsula to submit a $14.3 million letter of credit or bond for the clubhouse if it wanted to continue pulling building permits.
The new clubhouse is open only to residents in the community and their guests and all must purchase one of three membership types, Tobias said.
They have more than 700 members and the development is about 55 percent complete, he said.
The clubhouse was a long time coming and Saturday, Kim Thaler said she was pleased with the facility.
"Love it," she said. "We wanted to be part of a country club" community.
The building has views of the golf course and Indian River Bay.
Designer Matty Adler said Chris and Preston Schell, partners in Ocean Atlantic, initially wanted a typical, dark wood clubhouse design.
But Adler said it was hard to get beyond the idea that the location was on the water.
"I designed it twice," he said.
The first time was with the traditional clubby look, he said. And the second was like a club you might find in a resort like The Hamptons, he said.
When the Schells saw the two designs, he said, "they said you're right."
The interior is bright, with colors that reflect the nearby views like the blues of Indian River Bay, the tans of the beach and the wood tones from nearby forests.
The building includes a full service restaurant, a pro shop, a card room, a billiard room and a small dining area for private parties called "The Wine Room." The dining room includes a pizza oven that is overlaid with a sailor's valentine of shells done by Lewes shell artist Constance Miller. Miller is Chris and Preston Schell's aunt.
On the lower floor are locker rooms and a golf simulator.
On Saturday, Ethan Jack and his son, Mason, played a simulator round at Pebble Beach.
"It's a life-sized video game," Ethan Jack said.
Kathi and Dave Martin already had a second home in Rehoboth Beach when they told friends they would help them find a second home at the beach.
They noticed the billboards along Del. 1 advertising The Peninsula so one day, they stopped by to visit.
Long story short, they ended up buying a home there.
Kathi Martin said one of her biggest concerns was whether she would be able to meet people and make friends.
"It's a great place to socialize," Dave Martin said.
Tobias said the community has ended up being completely different than others in the area and is more similar to the golf-centered planned communities in the Carolinas.
The new clubhouse fit the lifestyle of people who settle in the development, he said. "We're ecstatic and the members are ecstatic."
Contact Molly Murray at (302) 463-3334 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MollyMurraytnj.